Here’s a rarity: a UK Americana record that sounds as strikingly original and, erm, American as the very best acts to have emerged over the last few years. There is, admittedly, a decidedly post-Fleet Foxes sound going on here with some beautiful high harmonies that lend the music a deceptive fragility. However, there is so much more to be found here than an infatuation with that particular sound.
The Whispering Pines is the solo project of Matthew Boulter, who has another job as singer and songwriter for Southend’s The Lucky Strikes. By all accounts they have an altogether more robust sound and I’m looking forward to hearing them, but this solo project, recorded over a couple of years, is a mystery box of sounds, revealing more and more surprising contents as you peel back the layers. Opening with a lush, warm arrangement built from some pretty lines on acoustic guitar, these thirteen songs go on to use a large palette of sounds that incorporates everything from the delicate beauty of mountain dulcimer to some keyboard effects that might be inspired by dreams or by desert landscapes. Matthew Boulter has attracted attention for his pedal steel playing so, rightly, there’s space for the eerie beauty that only a pedal steel can conjure, alongside some plangent banjo and some gentle guitar picking. Almost always, the instruments seem to be in debate with each other, tugging in slightly different directions – in a good way. Matthew’s voice is quite high with a sweet weariness often in evidence, and this, too, is one more instrument pursuing its own course. The skill and the beauty of Matthew’s work lies in making these disparate elements feel like they’re all necessary parts of one vision.
I’ve honestly found it hard to pin down these songs lyrically; sometimes the vocal is a bit suppressed in the mix which makes it harder still. What I do pick up, however, are some pretty bleak themes that belie the sweet music; there seems to be a fair bit of loneliness and alienation in there whilst The Gun seems to be a shockingly grim tale of urban strife. One of these days somebody will stick the lyrics up on the web and put me right. In the meantime, I’m quite fascinated to be piecing together an understanding of this impressive tapestry of sounds. It’s beautiful, engaging, and not quite like anything else out there.
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